A Review of The Final Specimen
I received a free copy of this game in exchange for writing this review. It’s cool, though; I told the author that I would only accept it under the condition that I could badmouth the game if I felt like it.
The Final Specimen is a simple PC platformer designed to resemble the weirdy-beardy freeware and shareware games of the early-mid 1990s. In this it succeeds. As an actual good game, my feelings are mixed, though mostly positive.
The game consists of eight levels of running to the right, throwing bombs, and fighting puzzle bosses. The layouts of the levels are always varied enough to never become tedious. Unfortunately, there is no save option, so you have to beat the game in one go. I expected the controls to be awful, but they were surprisingly smooth and effective. I could always make my on-screen avatar move wherever I wanted him to, which is more than I could say about The Witcher III: Wild Hunt.
I didn’t know there was a market for throwback shareware PC platformers. But if you’ve already scoured every abandonware site for platformers and you want more, this game is for you.
The Final Specimen has nine long levels but each one has enough design and visual difference that the game never gets boring. In tune with the nonsensical plot, none of the levels have any cohesion or rational existence for their gimmicks: One level is a fast food restaurant with flying food and burning stoves, another level is a haunted forest full of ghosts and possessed trees, and even the first level is a series of tubes followed by a free-fall through the atmosphere. Their lack of similarity is actually a point in the game’s favor; the level variety here is reminiscent of a far easier Battletoads.
As mentioned previously, each boss is a puzzle that (aside from the first level’s boss) has a vulnerability that is not readily apparent. You have a supply of bombs for each boss, but most of them just shrug them off unless you meet certain conditions. Against easier bosses, a player can usually discover the weakness fairly quickly, but they grow steadily harder as the game goes on. If you still think the game is too easy, there’s a hard mode that reduces your stock of lives. I’d love a boss rush option, though, as the bosses were the definite highlight of the game.
There are some downsides to The Final Specimen. The game is long and every level is long, so despite the varied environments I sometimes felt myself wishing the level would be over so I could get to the next boss. Some players will be turned off by the visuals, the “classic” gameplay, and the lack of save feature. But there’s enough good stuff to make it worth the ten bucks I didn’t have to pay for it.
The aesthetics and plot have that sort of benignly weird early-Weird-Al feel to them. Mercifully, it never devolves into MONKEY CHEESE RANDOM idiocy. The visuals look like they were done in MS Paint, but at least everything was designed by someone with some artistic experience. (I thought of trolling the creator of this game by making all of the images in this article from Moraff’s World, but he was too nice to me for me to do that.) The result is not ugliness but a lo-fi mixture of odd but pleasing colors. I also enjoyed the music, really enjoyed it, enough to give the creator money for it.
The Final Specimen is a strange game that fills a highly specific niche. I did play lots of games of this sort in the nineties, and I appreciate the throwback, but the game does stand on its own merits. Give it a shot. It even has a demo.